Nathan Hale-Ray High School holds 2010 commencement

Nathan Hale-Ray High School holds 2010 commencement

By Brenda Sullivan

How do you not sound corny when giving a high school commencement speech? It’s pretty much impossible, as valedictorian Kaitlyn Hays discovered while trying to summarize her transformation over her four years at East Haddam’s Nathan Hale-Ray High School. “I tried to make it the least corniest version I could write,” Hays said.

It’s especially difficult not to get too sentimental when you’re part of a small school in a tightly-knit community like East Haddam. Most of the Class of 2010 actually started their journey together in pre-school programs, or sharing milk and cookies in kindergarten. In her search for a theme, and for some advice on getting over her nervousness about giving a speech, Hays turned to Principal Linda Dadona – which led to a discussion about courage, and how it is demonstrated not only in the history books or in current news coverage, but in each of us living day-to-day.

There are many kinds of courage, Hays said, and sometimes, “Courage is something we give to each other.” She credited her classmates for their “undeniable acceptance and love for each other” for helping her find her own courage.

Hays said she found greater confidence participating in sports, thanks to a surprising realization. “People don’t look for your faults or desire your failure,” she said.

Another important quality to carry a young person on to the next phase of their lives, said salutatorian Brittany Ciullo, is inspiration. And again, it is all around us in the small things, she said.

Many of the graduates, as they gathered at the end of the ceremony, were certainly feeling inspired by the next steps in their lives – including Chelsea Bristol, who is looking forward to being a part of a Service Learning Community at the University of Connecticut, where she will study speech and language pathology. These communities are a way of making a large university feel more personal, said Chelsea’s mother, Kathy Bristol.

And while they are a little apprehensive about leaving their small school, classmates Anna Maria Truckenbrodt and Alysha Fagan said they will still be in touch, since they’re both attending Southern Connecticut State University in the fall – Truckenbrodt to study psychology and social work, and Fagan to study political science, in hopes of one day becoming a state senator. Now that’s courage.

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